Now that I know he’s out of our hair, I’ve been feeling a flush of Max Afinogenov appreciation recently, and so it was with some interest that I followed this link to a translated Russian interview. (Thanks to Vance from Bangin Panger for the link, via his Twitter feed) The article is interesting, both because Max was famously tight lipped during his time in Buffalo, and because the translation is hiLARious.
Say what you want about him, but Max Afinogenov was a Sabre for ten years. When I first started watching hockey, for a long time he was the only player I could identify by his skating style alone. Even as much as I loved Drury, nothing about his playing was particularly gripping to me as a new fan. But Max? Max was electrifying and captivating, so much so that he was my original Favorite Sabre.
I missed Max’s hayday completely, and even in spite of the the funk that he’s been in for the entirety of my fandom, he has been without question, the player most capable of captivating the crowd at the arena. Even when we hadn’t seen him score a goal in months, a buzz went through the crowd every time Max touched the puck. I’m really going to miss that next year.
I don’t think Max conveys as well on television. In order to truly appreciate him you need to see the entire ice surface, and you need to have two full teams of players to watch in comparison. Even when the Sabres sucked the hardest, I was always happy rooting for Max because no matter how bad he was (and he was BAD), he was always interesting. Rooting for him felt like I was embracing the absurd. Sure, I knew without QUESTION that he was ultimately going to turn the puck over to the opposition after skating it all over tarnation and before even taking a shot (I don’t think I ever saw Max score live), but damnit, I also knew without question that the Sabres were toast regardless of Max. If the loss feels inevitable, I want to at least see a flash of pizazz and a blur of flailing limbs.
In the end, at the arena I watched Max almost separately from the game. There was the game, where I could expect normal hockey plays and the potential for goal scoring, and there was Max, where I could expect NO goal scoring, but instead be treated to some variation of amusing trickery and misplayed tomfoolery. I’m not sure why I never fully turned on Max, but I think it’s because I always always always found myself delighted by him at HSBC. To me there is something inherently endearing about Max’s style, particularly live.
I don’t know what happened to Max. The style of the game stopped favoring his brand of speediness, and obviously his relationship with Lindy deteriorated. He’s all but useless now, I realize this. But in spite of all his many and obvious flaws, I’d love to see Max have success in the NHL again. I wish him nothing but good luck and well wishes, and I’m grateful that I got to see him play as a Sabre.
Good luck, Max!